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10 Unexpected Ways Your Clothes Can Change Your Mood

Ponder this before you select your next office outfit or workout duds.

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Your clothing can make you feel powerful

The “power tie” is a real thing, according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Researchers had certain people wear formal business attire and complete a series of five experiments that challenged their cognitive processing abilities. Those who dressed up felt significantly more powerful and in control of the situation than their under-dressed peers.

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Your clothing can make you a better thinker

In addition to feeling more powerful, the study also found that the subjects who dressed in business formal clothing could think faster on their feet and had more creative ideas. The scientists speculated that how you dress can change your perception of the objects, people, and events around you—sparking fresh ideas and a new point of view.

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Your clothing can make you exercise harder (but make it feel easier)

Athletes in red clothing won more events in the 2004 Olympic games than their competitors in blue, which inspired researchers to see if that was just a coincidence or if there is something special about the color red. The study, published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, found that people who exercised in red could lift heavier weights and had higher average heart rates, indicating they were working harder than those wearing blue, even though both groups reported similar rates of exertion. But before you toss all your blue workout gear, know that the researchers did not find that the red-clad sportsmen won more often. Find out here what else your outfit color says about you.

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Your clothing can make you smarter

Dressing in clothing that is associated with intelligence, like doctor’s coats or pilot’s uniforms, may not only make you look smarter but may actually make you act smarter too, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Researchers gave doctor’s lab coats to subjects (none of whom were doctors) and then asked them to perform a series of complex tasks. Those in white coats made significantly fewer mistakes than the people in their street clothes. The scientists then repeated the experiment but this time gave lab coats to all the participants. However, they told half the people they were doctor’s coats while the other half were told they were paint smocks. Again, the people in the “doctor’s coats” performed better on the tests, which shows that it’s not just what you wear but also what you think of what you wear that matters.

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Your clothing can make you focus better

Being able to focus on a task, particularly when it’s boring, is half the battle when it comes to many jobs. The same lab coat study found that the people wearing the “smarter” doctor’s lab coats were able to focus harder and longer than those who thought they were wearing just a painter’s smock. The authors explained it is because we know that physicians “tend to be careful, rigorous, and good at paying attention” and so when we act like a physician we embody some of those qualities—almost as if we’re trying to live up to the expectations of the outfit.

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Your clothing can help you get your way

This one’s for those who hate haggling over a car price or negotiating a house contract. (Um, isn’t that everyone?) According to research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, your clothing can give you an edge in an argument. Subjects were divided into three groups: They dressed in either a suit, a pair of sweats, or were allowed to wear their own clothing. They were then put in a scenario where they had to negotiate. The people who were dressed better routinely trumped those who were dressed down. Even more interestingly, the men in sweats actually showed lower testosterone levels, which further reduced their aggression.

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Your clothing can make you more honest

There may be a sneaky side effect of wearing knock-offs, according to a Harvard study published in Psychological Science. Researchers gave people fancy new sunglasses, telling half of a group they were designer while the other half was told they were counterfeit. Those wearing the knock-offs were more likely to cheat during a subsequent game and expressed more suspicion of other players. Wearing fake clothing, it turns out, may make you feel like a fake—and may make you assume others are also being fake.

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Your clothing can make you want to work out

So, you want to exercise, but can’t quite muster the motivation? Try dressing for the part, say researchers. Wearing running shorts and sneakers first thing in the morning is more than a comfy way to run errands; seeing yourself in athletic duds could motivate you to hit the gym on your way home from the store. “It’s all about the symbolic meaning that you associate with a particular item of clothing,” said Hajo Adam, PhD, a Northwestern University researcher and author of the famous lab coat study. “I think it would make sense that when you wear athletic clothing, you become more active and more likely to go to the gym and work out.” After you finish working out, here’s how to remove sweat stains from your clothes.

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iStock/Petar Chernaev

Your clothing can cheer you up

Do you wear clothing that reflects your mood or do you wear clothing to change your mood? Researchers from the University of Queensland interviewed people and observed their clothing choices to find out. The answer? More often than not, we dress how we’d like to feel or how we’d like others to think we’re feeling. In other words, we put on a happy sweater along with a happy smile, even if we’re feeling down. And it works, especially if we wear clothing that has gotten us compliments in the past or is something that brings back good memories.

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Your clothing can make you lose weight

Wearing a snug-fitting pair of pants, tightening your belt a notch, or even tying a ribbon around your waist underneath your clothing can give you a subconscious signal to stop eating as soon as you are full. “A number of French women wear a ribbon around their waist and underneath their clothes when they go out for dinner,” explains fitness guru Valerie Orsoni. “It keeps them conscious of the tummy—particularly if the ribbon starts to feel tighter as the evening goes on!”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.